Stepping onto her native land for the first time in seven years, Grace Geng, daughter of dissident Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, burst into tears.
Now 23, Ms. Geng has returned to China from exile in the United States where she, her mother, and younger brother now reside after smuggling themselves out of the country through Thailand years ago, to launch her father’s new memoir. This launch represents the conquering of a huge feat; Gao’s memoir, in which he details years of imprisonment, his Christian faith, and his belief that the Chinese Communist Party will face great trouble in the near future, was written in secret.
“This is the first time I am so close to my father and so close to mainland China in seven years. So, I am pretty excited to be here,” Ms. Geng said, from Hong Kong.
In December 2004, Gao Zhisheng was charged with subversion and sentenced to house arrest after defending China’s Christians and followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, BBC News reports.
After a long bout of suspicious disappearances and reappearances since his initial conviction, Chinese state-media finally revealed that Mr. Gao had been jailed for three years, in Xinjiang prison. Since his release from prison in 2014, he has once again been living under house arrest in his remote home village in Shaanxi province, in China’s northwest region.
Unfortunately, this crackdown and unlawful detainment of human rights lawyers and activists is not uncommon in modern China. According to Amnesty International, an astounding 250 of these individuals have been the targets by government officials this past year alone.
The three years spent in jail, placed there by his own government, took a massive toll – both physical and psychological – on Mr. Gao’s health. As one of his lawyers, Jared Gensher, recounts: “[he was] utterly destroyed: emotionless, unintelligible and nearly toothless from malnutrition”.
Ms. Geng says that because her father has been denied access to doctors, he is still relying on liquid foods for nourishment.
According to her, Mr. Gao has also been denied access to phones and computers, and is under constant surveillance.
Forced into this world of isolation, Mr. Gao is only able to communicate with his wife and children sparingly, via his elder brother, with whom he lives on his farm.
Through these tiny windows of contact, Ms. Geng says that her father is determined to improve his physical health, adding that “Mentally, he appears to be OK. The last time I spoke with him, he seemed fulfilled with God.”
It has taken years for Ms. Geng to understand her father’s decisions, but as she grows older and wiser, she now says she supports him fully.
“I came to think of his decision as truly great,” she told BBC in an interview, struggling to hold back tears.